A quarter of a century later, Everybody Else Is Doing it, So Why Can’t We? exemplifies the spirit of the generation coming of age after punk and new wave.
Few fans of the Cranberries’ first hit, with its lilting and shifting cadences, likely knew of singer Dolores O’Riordan’s roots in the traditional Irish vocals known as sean-nós (literally “old-style/custom”). With three local mates barely in their 20s, the lineup grew out of homespun group Cranberry Saw Us with Mike Hogan on bass, his brother Noel on guitar and Fergal Lawler on drums. The band formed in the mid-‘80s and recorded their first songs in 1990, when their departing singer introduced them to O’Riordan through the network of the Limerick music scene. During her audition the trio featured an instrumental that would become “Linger,” the breakout that would launch their fame two years later.
As admirers of The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and New Order, the quartet called on Stephen Street, who had produced Strangeways, Here We Come for The Smiths, ultimately the influence strongest for The Cranberries. Given Street’s skill capturing Morrissey’s wavering delivery, he was a perfect match for O’Riordan’s plaintive lyrics and soaring melodies. Schooled in the medium of the Irish language and a successful singer at weddings at her parish, she received formal musical training on piano and voice, and her soprano tone stood out even before her teens.
On a new four-disc expansion of Everybody Else Is Doing it, So Why Can’t We?, originally released in 1993, the early recording “Íosa” conveys the hymnal quality of O’Riordan’s Irish and Latin lyrics. However, as The Cranberries opened for British bands touring Ireland and as their self-taught craftsmanship grew, they moved on from being merely “another” Irish act in the wake of U2 and Sinéad O’Connor. Four EPs for the tiny Xeric label included on the re-release express invention and texture, with the dirge-like “Nothing Left at All” emphasizing a post-punk ambiance.
Stephen Street’s attention to spatial depth makes the 12 songs of the original album lighter as well as darker. He has the band step aside from their influences to stress what John Keats called “negative capability” in 1817. With the goth-tinged music diminished, there’s room for O’Riordan’s mood to reverberate. The subtler atmosphere Street sought dials down the Gaelic echoes and sells Everybody Else in its alt-rock ambition. Easy-going enough for pop, it hinted at rather than imitated the band’s edgier predecessors, and the strategy worked.
For their debut, The Cranberries wanted a cover with impact. With the Hogan brothers and O’Riordan on a beige sofa, and Lawler on the floor, the shadowy, suggestive look reminds one of the Beatles’ first album cover. Eoin Devereux’s liner notes track the unexpectedly global itinerary of the sofa as the band capitalized on the sudden success of “Linger.” Atlanta college radio championed the tune, and by syndication it spread to alternative stations across the U.S. Out of its six million copies worldwide, five million were sold in America. A quarter of a century later, Everybody Else Is Doing it, So Why Can’t We? exemplifies the spirit of the generation coming of age after punk and new wave. That nervy volume diminishes, but the attention to moods of confusion, longing and loss still endure.